You could argue that if Creed Taylor hadn’t introduced the music of Brazil to American and European audiences in the early sixties by releasing the work of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto on Verve, the jazz label he worked for as a producer, someone else would have done it. But who knows? Maybe most of us would never have heard bossa nova. Maybe it would have stayed a Brazilian phenomenon, perhaps one eventually crushed by the right-wing military government that had taken control of the country in 1964, in a coup backed by the American government.
But Creed Taylor did introduce this music to a wide audience, and it caught on fast. Jazz musicians implicitly recognised the music’s kinship to their own, and they adopted its tunes and forged partnerships with its practitioners. One of those who benefitted from this process of cross-fertilisation was Brazilian pianist and producer Eumir Deodato, who moved to New York in 1967 and was hired by Taylor to write arrangements for the signings to his new label, CTI, a list that included Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
In 1973, Deodato was given the chance to record his first solo album for CTI. Prelude brought together some of the heaviest, hippest players in what had come to be known as jazz fusion, or simply fusion – a combination of jazz, rock and R&B played by musicians who, to paraphrase fusion pioneer Larry Coryell, had grown up immersed in jazz, but who also loved the Rolling Stones.
Fusion was codified when Miles Davis (did he love the Stones? Somehow, I don’t see it) formed his first electric band in 1968, enlisting guitarist John McLaughlin and – over the course of the next few years – no fewer than four electric keyboard players, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Larry Young and Herbie Hancock, to play on Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.
The most obvious distinguishing markers of fusion were its sounds, textures and rhythms. Fusion groups largely dropped the swung “and-a-one, and-a-two” ride cymbal pattern common to virtually all jazz thitherto, instead adopting a two-and-four backbeat and straight eights from rock and R&B – Miles Davis had, prior to recording Filles de Kilimanjaro, been listening extensively to James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix. Amplified keyboards and guitars – even Davis’s trumpet – could be distorted, or given trippy reverb, echo and delay effects.
The purists screamed, of course. But there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. Fusion was a hit. Helped by his new wife, Betty Mabry, who was plugged in to the New York counterculture, Davis was soon playing in front of thousands at rock venues and sharing stages with The Band, the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix in front of hundreds of thousands at major festivals. His collaborators formed bands of their own, all successful: Weather Report (Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter), Return to Forever (Chick Corea) and the Mahavishnu Orchestra (John McLaughlin).
This was the era and milieu in Deodato’s Prelude became CTI’s biggest-selling record on the back of an honest-to-God pop hit. His version of the fanfare from Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, released only a few years after 2001: A Space Odyssey had made the music instantly recognisable to a wide audience, reached the top ten in both the UK and US.
Ok, so, the single edit cut out Deodato’s and guitarist John Tropea’s time, no changes soloing (Tropea a dead ringer for McLaughlin on In a Silent Way), but even in its single edit Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001) miraculously avoids being merely cheesy through the quality of its musicianship. Perhaps recording Also Sprach Zarathustra was a cynical piece of hit-chasing, perhaps it was merely a goof, but this is not any old group of jazz pros goofing around: this is Ron Carter and Stanley Clarke on double and electric bass, Billy Cobham on drums and the great Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira on tambourine. It was received by most of its audience, I think, as a sort of loungey-funky instrumental, rather than the jazz piece it truly is when listened to unedited, but I still give a lot of credit to the pop fans who heard this and dug it. There’s a lot to dig, especially Cobham.
Deodato combined work as a bandleader with his successful career as a producer and arranger throughout the seventies and eighties, working with people like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin, and shepherding Kool & the Gang as they went from a hard-funk party band to a vocal-led post-disco pop group.